Today I am going to share one of my favorite blogs written while touring for Loving Mr. Darcy. This one was at Romance Header at Heart’s Novel Thoughts where I will again be blogging on Jan. 4 for My Dearest Mr. Darcy. Anyone who has read my books knows all about Darcy’s infatuation with horses. Here are some of the reasons why I chose that course and a bit of a history lesson. Enjoy!
There is a terrifically funny scene in the Disney flick “George of the Jungle” where a buff, long-haired George (Brendan Fraser) is running alongside a frisky horse with his shirt open and sculpted chest gleaming. Jane and several other women are watching him, utterly spellbound and drooling, when a couple guys observing the scene pipe up and say, “What is it about chicks and horses?” Of course it is hysterical because the women are so NOT looking at the horse. But yet, would even George be as appealing and virile and sexy if he were chasing a poodle? I think not!
There IS something about chicks and horses – at least where they are involved with handsome men. I have been atop a horse maybe five times in my entire life, counting pony rides at the fair, so I am miles away from any kind of an equestrian expert. Obviously women, even small ones, can handle a horse. They do it all the time. And a mature horse is certainly gorgeous and awe-inspiring all on its own. But, come on, be honest, don’t we somehow envision a powerful stallion in full gallop mode with a rugged, whiskered, and sweaty man controlling? Maybe wielding a sword at the same time? Or roping wild steers? Sure we do!
I can assure you that I was not thinking of George of the Jungle when I decided that my Mr. Darcy would be a superb horseman. But I was inspired by the general idea of men and horses. And, I confess, by the scenes in Pride & Prejudice 2005 when a masculine Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) is sitting on that black stallion glaring at Mr. Wickham and later crazily racing through the wood after being rejected by Elizabeth. Yum. I loved it and just had to include that facet as a part of his life.
Then I decided to take it a bit further. Research came into play as it always does in my story. Why stop at just creating a Mr. Darcy who was a skillful rider? That wasn’t all that unusual in an age where horses were the standard of transportation. Having a manly hero who can manage a huge beast can be creatively used in a clichéd chase scene or something, but it does not make him unique. So it occurred to me that all these horses had to come from somewhere, didn’t they? Someone had to breed them, right? Ends up that not only is the answer obviously yes, but horse breeding was a very lucrative business. And one that was undertaken by wealthy gentlemen, especially those with vast estate lands at their disposal. Fabulous!
My crash course in horses and everything associated with them is not, by any stretch, very complete. I learned enough to get by in my story. I wanted Darcy to be a man passionate about horses. I wanted horses to be an integral part of Pemberley’s economy. I wanted Darcy to be a hands-on type of Master, in various ways, but especially when it came to horses. Plausible? Sure!
I chose Thoroughbreds out of the various horse breeds common in English history because I also discovered via my studies that horse racing was a national sport that became a phenomenon during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). Racecourses like Newmarket and Epsom Downs sprang up all over the country. The rage escalated rapidly, leading to a group of elite gentlemen forming the Jockey Club in 1750, a group that still to this day sets all rules and standards for horse racing in England. Among the Jockey Club’s accomplishments was the regulation of all Thoroughbred breeding in the country. Only the purest bloodlines were allowed to race and breeders were required to follow stringent guidelines and keep meticulous records to prove that their horses could be traced back to the original three Arabians imported from the Middle East.
I think it goes without saying that under the climate of the day – and even still in the 21st century – horse racing was hugely important and prestigious in England. I loved being able to write that into the history of Pemberley. Additionally, as financial sound and esteemed as breeding Thoroughbreds would have been, the Regency Era was a time of war. Actually, there had been several wars if you count that minor uprising across the pond in 1776! So breeding swift, intelligent, enduring horses for the military was also a money making proposition. It was almost a no-brainer to write the Darcy family in such a way. I only took it to the fun extreme of assigning a deep passion for horses as a major aspect of my Fitzwilliam Darcy. To the point that he personally commands the stable staff and even gets dirty in the training corrals. Now doesn’t that just sound yummy?